ALAMEDA, Calif. — The problems that plagued the Oakland Raiders this season in their surprising fall from Super Bowl contender to a losing record went much deeper than any coach.
While coach Jack Del Rio paid the price for overseeing one of the league’s most disappointing teams this season, it will take more than just bringing in Jon Gruden or some other coach to turn Oakland around.
“For us as players, we need to be better,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We have to be more accountable. We have to be more demanding.”
That was missing this season as the Raiders (6-10) were unable to build on last year’s 12-win season that ended a 13-year playoff drought and reverted back to the losing ways that plagued this franchise since the team’s previous Super Bowl trip following the 2002 season in the year after Gruden left the organization for the first time.
The offense took a major step backward after firing coordinator Bill Musgrave and replacing him with the untested Todd Downing.
The defense showed no improvement the first 10 weeks under Ken Norton Jr. before making some progress after a mid-season change to John Pagano, but it was not enough.
The Raiders fell into a hole with a four-game losing streak early in the season and then collapsed with four straight losses down the stretch after getting back into contention.
That led to owner Mark Davis’ decision to fire Del Rio after three seasons with all signs pointing to Gruden returning as the team’s next coach. ESPN, which employs Gruden as an announcer, has reported that the move will happen.
Whoever is hired will have a much better foundation than the one Del Rio inherited when he took over following a three-win season in 2014.
“For a while there, we didn’t have any winning seasons. He came in here and we were able to turn things around,” fullback Jamize Olawale said. “I think moving forward, the future is bright.”
Here are some issues the Raiders will face this offseason:
Fix the Carr
The most puzzling development this season was the step back by Carr. He had become one of the league’s most promising passers after leading seven fourth-quarter comebacks in 2016.
But whether it was skittishness after a broken leg that ended 2016 and a back injury early this season, the coordinator change or some other factor, Carr looked little like the player who earned a $125 million contract last offseason. He tied his career high with 13 interceptions and most of his other numbers were the worst since his rookie season.
The Raiders lured Marshawn Lynch out of retirement in part for goodwill from the fans in Oakland, who wanted to cheer on a hometown favorite. Lynch proved to be more than that the second half of the season as he averaged 78.1 yards rushing per game over the final eight games, tied for third best in the league in that span. But whether that’s enough for the team to want him back for a second season will be a question this offseason.
Receiver Michael Crabtree mysteriously became a non-factor for the Raiders down the stretch after being an integral part of the team for most of his first three seasons in Oakland.
Crabtree played just 46 snaps in the final two games, was targeted five times and had just two catches. He spent much of the time on the sideline upset by his reduced role.
“I do everything I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I play 60 minutes every time we play. Game winners after game winners.
“I did everything they asked of me these last two games, and I’ve probably had three targets. Nobody’s saying anything about that, but it’s all good. Like I said I’m going to keep working hard and be me.”
Oakland spent its first two draft picks this past season on two defensive backs who ended up making little impact because of injuries. First-round cornerback Gareon Conley played just two games because of a shin injury and second-round safety Obi Melifonwu had just 34 defensive snaps because of lower-body injuries.
The Raiders will be counting on healthy bounce-back seasons from those two to boost a secondary that has struggled in recent years.
One player the Raiders are sure to pay this offseason is 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. Mack has been a star since entering the league in 2014, and his 192½ pressures lead the NFL over the past three seasons, and his 36½ sacks rank second. Mack has one year remaining on his rookie deal and will be in line for a lucrative new deal this offseason unless Oakland opts to wait and possibly use the franchise tag in 2019.